ACLU Seeks Records About Laptop Searches at the Border

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Robyn Shepherd, (212) 519-7829 or 549-2666; media@aclu.org

ACLU Seeks Records About Laptop Searches at the Border

Customs And Border Protection Policy Allows Searches of Laptops Without Suspicion of Wrongdoing

NEW YORK - The
American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit today demanding records
about the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)'s policy of
searching travelers' laptops without suspicion of wrongdoing. The
lawsuit was filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to learn
how CBP's policy, issued last year, has impacted the civil liberties of
travelers during the first year of its implementation.

"Traveling with a laptop shouldn't
mean the government gets a free pass to rifle through your personal
papers," said Catherine Crump, staff attorney with the ACLU First
Amendment Working Group. "This sort of broad and invasive search is
exactly what the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable
searches are designed to prevent."

In its policy, CBP asserts it is
free to read the information on travelers' laptops "absent
individualized suspicion." CBP claims the right to search all files
saved on laptops, including personal financial information, family
photographs and lists of Web sites travelers have visited, without
having reason to believe a traveler has broken the law. Additionally,
CBP's policy extends to suspicionless searches of "documents, books,
pamphlets and other printed material, as well as computers, disks, hard
drives and other electronic or digital storage devices." The policy
covers all persons, whether or not they are U.S. citizens, crossing the
border.

"Under CBP's policy, innumerable
international travelers have had their most personal information
searched by government officials and retained by the government
indefinitely," said Larry Schwartztol, staff attorney with the ACLU
National Security Project. "The disclosure of these records is
necessary to better understand the extent to which U.S. border and
customs officials may be violating the Constitution."

The ACLU made an initial FOIA
request for the CBP's records in June. Today's lawsuit seeks to enforce
that request. Among the documents being sought by the ACLU are records
pertaining to the criteria used for selecting passengers for
suspicionless searches, the number of people who have been subject to
the searches, the number of devices and documents retained and the
reasons for their retention.

The complaint was filed in the U.S.
District Court for the Southern District of New York. The attorneys on
the case are Crump, Schwartztol and Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU National
Security Project.

The ACLU's FOIA request is available online at: www.aclu.org/freespeech/gen/39817lgl20090610.html

More information on this case is available online at: www.aclu.org/freespeech/gen/40847res20090610.html

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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